Critically acclaimed comedy director Judd Apatow, well known for his hilarious, meaningful and overly long comedies (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This is 40 and Funny People), doesn’t stray away from his roots in his new movie The King of Staten Island.
The light shines fully on lead actor, co-writer and producer Pete Davidson, who plays an alternate version of himself, barring a few details. The movie is regarded as a semi-autobiographical take on Davidson’s life, using moments from his history — most notably the tragic death of his firefighter father — to anchor the story and stem his character’s traits. Davidson’s character, Scott, is a deadbeat stoner with no life prospects or responsibilities, traits which roll into poor mental health.
The film simplifies the story by saying that his father died in a hotel fire, when in fact Davidson’s father died during the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks when Pete was seven years old. The movie is dedicated to him and acts as a therapeutic coping mechanism for Pete to honour his father as the hero he was. Throughout the film, Davidson uses a dark sense of humour to address his father’s death, something that he has done during his comedy sets and is a personal method by which he deals with his loss and trauma.
Scott wants to open a “tattoo restaurant” where customers can sit down and eat while getting tattooed, an idea no one has done before, and for good reason. He uses his stoner friends and even a nine-year-old boy as canvases to practice his tattoo skills, which they complain are inconsistent, as you can tell by the picture above. His mother (Marisa Tomei) wants him to move out and become more independent in his own life. She is also dating a firefighter (Bill Burr), who Scott tries to get rid of as he struggles to come to terms with his mother dating another fireman. He is scared by the prospect of this new man suffering the same fate as his father and his mother being hurt again.
The film, particularly in the beginning, touches heavily upon mental illness, focusing on male depression as a subject which is still seen as taboo in today’s society and within the film industry. What the writers portray through Scott’s character arc is that it’s okay to not be okay and to not have your life together, and that you don’t need to have all the pieces fit in the puzzle to make life work. By the film’s end, Davidson’s character develops transparency; opening up about his emotions and proving that he doesn’t need to put on the facade that he doesn’t care. He learns that he is allowed to show how he feels.
Davidson’s charm can only do so much though, as the runtime sits just under the two-and-a-half-hour mark, overstaying its welcome a bit and feeling like it was longer than it needed to be. Apatow is infamous for his overly long comedies and I believe a bit more time in the editing room would’ve made this film tighter and strike its landing harder.
This movie is ultimately a pursuit of happiness and coming-of-age story. Scott learns to take care of himself and others and that his actions have consequences, particularly on the ones he loves. With a lot of heart and laughs, this film about a man trying to find his own happiness gives us some along the way at a time when we’re all seeking it.